These guys were nasty.
Jesse James killed an estimated 16 people, and was involved in close to 200 more murders.
Bonnie & Clyde killed 13 and terrorised store keepers and gas station owners throughout the country.
Yet their exploits are among some of the most celebrated around.
I feel it has much to do with the thrill of the chase.
The knowledge that there is danger at large.
“Who knows where they will next strike?”
“Who knows if they will ever be caught?”
Do we read a murder mystery because we want to find out who did it? Or is it far more enjoyable to revel in the feeling of not knowing, aware that the truth is out there, somewhere?
For more than a year between 1933 and 1934 Bonnie & Clyde fled through the states of the US, occasionally reappearing in their home state of Texas to see family.
For a full year before his killing by a fellow gang member in 1882, Jesse James had been forced to lie low in Missouri, with the constant danger of a bounty on his head.
Perhaps time is also a factor. Decades on, the years in-between remove us from the terror that these people inflicted.
We only read the tale, and are fascinated by it.
We don’t experience the horror.
It perhaps helps explain why Jesse James’ gun belt has a substantial $10,000 minimum bid at Heritage Auctions’ Wild West Signature Auction in Dallas this weekend (June 22-23), and why two Bonnie & Clyde-owned guns, taken from the pair’s bodies after they were shot dead in 1934, sold for a combined $504,000 in October last year.
If grisly memorabilia is your thing, be sure to check out our collection from Britain’s most prolific family of hangmen, the Pierrepoints.